The Son of Man is Lord of the Sabbath

“And He said to them, “The Sabbath was made for man, not man for the Sabbath.   So the Son of Man is lord even of the Sabbath.”
(Mark 2:27-28 ESV)

Having discussed previously that the Law has a role in the life of every believer(see the law and the believer), let’s discuss exactly what that role is.  In the aforementioned passage, Jesus makes some statements about the Sabbath and who is the ruler or “lord” of the Sabbath.  As we define exactly what Jesus is saying, this will gives us some insight into the keeping of the Sabbath, and subsequently, into the keeping of the law.  The idea presented here is that, it is up to each individual believer to determine, through their relationship with God, exactly how they are going to “keep” each commandment. The Law was given to us and we are the “lords” of that law.  It is to serve us and not us it.  Therefore, every believer, through their consciousness before God, must determine how they are going to “keep” the commandments.  First, let’s discuss this passage and draw conclusions from what Messiah is telling us.

The most common interpretation of this passage is as follows:  “In what sense now is the Son of Man Lord of the Sabbath day?  Not surely to abolish it–that surely were a strange lordship, especially after just saying that it was made or instituted for man–but to own it, to interpret it, to preside over it , and to ennoble it, by merging it into the Lord’s Day, breathing into it an air of liberty and love necessarily unknown before, and thus making it the nearest resemblance to the eternal sabbatism.” (1, please see footnote for additional information)  What we can infer from this traditional Christian commentary is that the passage “Son of Man” is a Hebrew idiom in which Jesus is referring to Himself.  With this interpretation, we completely agree.  Jesus was the “Son of Man”, the God-man, who put on flesh and dwelt with us, and who came as Messiah to give us the complete interpretation of the Law. (as was previously discussed in the post “Jesus and the Law”)   However, if we delve deeper into the Hebrew of this passage, we can come up with an additional interpretation, that will shed some light not only on the Sabbath, but, on who we are as a people of God.

“In Hebrew, ‘son’ can mean not only a male offspring, but also ‘descendant’, citizen, member and even  disciple…Actually its range of meaning is even wider than we indicated”  ‘son of a house’ is one who is such a close friend that he is like a member of the family; ‘son of death’ is one who deserves to die, or who has been condemned to die; ‘son of Gehinnon’ (hell) is someone who is bound for hell;…and there are many other idiomatic usages in Hebrew of the word “son”.” (2)  So, if someone was considered a son of something, then, it meant that they had the characteristics of that particular lifestyle.  Well, son of man, basically means that a person is a human being.  It is the most common designation that God uses when he is talking to the Hebrew prophet Ezekiel.   Repeatedly, God calls Ezekiel, “son of man.”  This gives us a different and unique interpretation of the aforementioned passage.   Jesus is telling us that first, the Sabbath was created for us.  Meaning, that God gave us the Sabbath (Exodus 16:29) for our own benefit and that we as “lord” of the Sabbath determine exactly what activities are prohibited and what is permissible based upon each ones consciousness before God.  We do not serve the Sabbath, the Sabbath, was given to us by God and as lords of the Sabbath we determine how we celebrate it before God.  As Paul writes, “Therefore let no one pass judgment on you in questions of food and drink, or with regard to a festival or a new moon or a Sabbath. “  (Colossians 2:16 ESV)  With this interpretation, noted Jewish scholar David Stern agrees.  He writes, “It may be, therefore, that Yeshua’s comment in v. 28, that the Son of Man is Lord of the Shabbat, does not refer only to himself but to everyone, since Hebrew ‘ben-adam’ (literally, son of man) can mean simply ‘man, person’ with no Messianic overtone:  ‘people control Shabbat’ and not the other way round.” (3) Also, with this interpretation, that Talmud agrees as well, “Rabbi Yonatan ben-Yosef said:  ‘For it (Shabbat) is holy unto you.’ (Exodus 31:14)  That is, it is committed into your hands, not you into its hands!”(4)  Additionally, David Friedman gives us both interpretations.  He writes, “I understand Yeshua to be saying that collectively; men rule over the Sabbath,  Yeshua, as a special “Son of Man” (in Second Temple language, son of man denoted an apocalyptic figure, or the Messiah) had authority from God to teach the Jewish people about correct Sabbath priorities.” (5)  Hence, Jesus has the authority to tell us that we are the ‘lords’ of the Sabbath because He is the “Son of Man.”

If we can spring-board off of the Sabbath and apply this principle to the law, we determine the role of the law in the life of the believer.  We do not serve the Law, the Law serves us.  It is up to each individual believer to determine which commandments they are capable of keeping and how they will keep those commandments in their own individual relationship with God.  It matters not to me how one keeps the commandments.  What matters is that we believe that we ought to keep them as an expression of love toward God.  Paul agrees with this when he writes, “Circumcision is nothing, and uncircumcision is nothing, but obeying God’s commandments is everything.” (I Corinthians 7:19, ISV)  We were not created for the Law, but, as God’s chosen and special people, the law was given to us.  Therefore, it is our obligation as holy people, to determine how we are going to “keep the commandments of God.”

Endnote

1.  Jamieson, Robert; Faussett, A.R.; Brown, David, A Commentary on the Old and New Testaments, Hendrickson Publishing, Peabody Mass, 2002 second printing,  page 70.  Of course, we completely disagree that Jesus was here changing the Sabbath to Sunday worship, which seems to be the inference from this passage, as is also noted in the Matthew Henry commentary.  We will discuss the changing of the day of worship by the church in another post.

2.  .  Bivin, David, Blizzard, Roy, Understanding the Difficult Words of Jesus, Destiny Image Publishers, Shippensburg, PA, 1994, page 55 & 127.

3.  Stern, David, The Jewish New Testament Commentary, Jewish New Testament Publications, Clarksville, Maryland, 1992, page 89.

4.  The Babylonian Talmud, Yoma 85b, as quoted in Stern, page 89.

5.  Friedman, David, They Loved the Torah, Lederer Books, Messianic Jewish Publishers, Baltimore, MY, 2001, page, 16.

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Jesus and the Law

Matt 5:17-20: [17] Think not that I am come to destroy the law (nomos; Torah), or the prophets: I am not come to destroy, but to fulfill. [18] For verily I say unto you, Till heaven and earth pass, one jot or one tittle shall in no wise pass from the law, till all be fulfilled. [19] Whosoever therefore shall break one of these least commandments, and shall teach men so, he shall be called the least in the kingdom of heaven: but whosoever shall do and teach [them], the same shall be called great in the kingdom of heaven. [20] For I say unto you, That except your righteousness shall exceed [the righteousness] of the scribes and Pharisees, ye shall in no case enter into the kingdom of heaven.”

Jesus  came to be our example.  He demonstrated to us what a man, in right relationship with God, can accomplish by the power of the Holy Spirit.  Therefore, his comments on the law are of the utmost importance.

The word used here for “destroy” is the Greek word “katuloo” (Strong’s #i2647) its meaning is “to loosen down, to disintegrate to demolish, or to halt.” Messiah is telling us here what He has not come to do.  He has not come to loosen down, stop, or disintegrate the Law.  Yet, this is the position that Christianity has taken for thousands of years.  How often have we heard that the “law was done away with.”  This position is totally untenable when we examine what Jesus is saying in this passage.  The first verse totally disengages the church’s position.  The law must have a place in the life of the believer.  For years, theologians and preachers have told us that Jesus fulfilled the law, therefore, it no longer applies to us.  But that is not what Jesus is saying here.  This position is saying thatr by fulfilling the law he abolished the law.  Not so, He is telling us that it has a place.  To further discuss this, let us look at the word for “fulfill.”

The word used for “fulfill” is the Greek word “plerroo” (Strong’s #4137).  It’s meaning, is to “make replete, to fill up,  or to fulfill as in cram to the tap.”  It is the verb that Paul uses regarding the Holy Spirit in Ephesians 5:18 where he states, “be filled with the Holy Spirit.”  This gives us a sense of what the word means. It means that as Christians we should be crammed to the top with the Holy Spirit.  So, what could the  possible meaning be in this context of Matthew 5:17?  “Rather than being destroyed it now existed as God originally intended.  It had come to an end in one form, but continued in another, more perfect form.” (1).  It would appear that Messiah is here restoring the Law to its original intention as a lifestyle of holiness for the priesthood of all believers.  The Law had been perverted into a system of works that became a vehicle of salvation.  Jesus was clarifying that He was the only means of salvation, but this did not destroy the law.  As the IVP commentary states, “Jesus opposed not the law but the illegitimate interpretation of it that stressed regulations more than character.” (2)

If fulfill means “to do away with” then we have Jesus saying one thing (Do not think I have come to abolish the Law) while immediately contradicting Himself (I did not come to abolish but to fulfill.)  “To fulfill” obviously can’t mean “to do away with.”  Jesus reveals the essence of the Law by saying things like “You have heard it said of old that one must not murder, but I say to you that if you hate your brother in your heart that you have already murdered him.”  Jesus was clarifying and amplifying the Commandment (Law) not to murder by showing Israel what the essence of the Commandment is.  He didn’t throw out the commandment not to murder by telling us the essence of the Commandment.  But what He did do was sweep away any thoughts that one could keep that Commandment perfectly, even if one had not literally murdered someone.

In Hebrew terms, Jesus is using rabbinical terms of the time to explain His position.  “Destroy and fulfill are technical terms used in rabbinic argumentation.  When  a sage felt that a colleague had misinterpreted a passage of scripture, he would say, ‘You are destroying the Law!’  Needless to say, in most cases his colleague strongly disagreed.  What was ‘destroying the Law’ for one sage, was ‘fulfilling the law’ for another.” (3)  Of course, neither rabbi in the argument would ever think of negating any commandments of scripture, they were just technical phrases from rabbinical schools of thought to be seen figuratively and not literally.  The church has taken a literal position and tossed out the Law for the believer.

While many people say that Christ fulfilled the commandments at the cross (therefore we are no longer required to obey them)  we know this cannot be true, as Jesus perfectly fulfilled the Law to love our enemies, but that doesn’t mean we are “free” to hate them because Christ fulfilled the Law for us.  When does He say the Law will pass?  “When Heaven and Earth pass away.”   This has not yet happened.  The Law is still in effect.

An additional Hebrew idiom can be found in phrase, “I have come”.  “When Jesus says “I have come” the English reader immediately pictures Jesus leaving his heavenly throne and, as the Servant of the Lord, coming to the earth.  But “I have come” may often be a Hebrew idiom denoting intention or purpose.” (4)  Thus, we can translate “I have come” to mean something completely different than the incarnation.  My purpose or My task rather than “this is the reason that I left heaven.” With this purpose in mind, John Lightfoot gives us an additional perspective on this verse,  He writes, “It was the opinion of the nation concerning the Messias, that he would bring in a new law, but not at all to the prejudice or damage of Moses and the Prophets:  but that he would advance the Mosaic law to the very highest pitch, and would fulfill those things that were foretold by the prophets, and that according to the letter, even to the greatest pomp.” (5)  Is this not what we see Jesus doing in this entire passage of scripture.  Elevating and establishing the Law, rather than abolishing it.

Jesus tells us that our righteousness must exceed that of the scribes and the Pharisees.  Our righteousness in keeping the Law must go deeper than the superficial external followings of the Scribes and Pharisees.  Does that mean the Law is done away with?  Well, how did Christ explain this? Rather than telling us not to murder, he tells us not to hate.  Rather than tell us not to commit adultery He tells us not to lust.  The requirements of God through Christ don’t just teach us to follow the Law, they reveal the heart of the Law that one must strive for in Christ.  To not murder is “easy” for most believers.  But to abstain from hate is impossible for most, and that is why we need His blood of forgiveness and His spirit of life, to help us to overcome our carnal nature and receive His nature, so that we can do both the external and internal Law of God.  The Pharisees followed the Laws of God – in their actions.  But their hearts were far from God (Mat 15:8,9; Isaiah 29:13)  Obedience to God is about action (thou shalt not kill) as well as heart (thou shalt not hate.)  Our righteousness must include that of the Pharisees (the external points of the Law) and go beyond it (the heart of the Law, as Jesus revealed it to us.)  Our obedience to God must be an act of the will motivated by a love for God.  Additionally, verse 19 seems to suggest that obedience to the law is a requirement for those who are in the “Kingdom of God.”  In fact, those who support the abolishment of the law are still in the kingdom.  They are called “the least” but they remain in the Kingdom.  Obviously then, obedience to Torah is not a means of salvation.

Let’s close with a lengthy quote from John Gill’s Exposition of the Entire Bible which sums up our position:
“The moralist, the Pharisee, who obeys the Law externally, does not love it, nor delight in it (Romans 7:22) but obeys it from fear of its threatening; and from a desire of popular esteem and from low, selfish views, in order to gain the applause of men and the favor of God.  Only a man restored to God will delight in the law of God, as it is fulfilled by Christ, who has answered all the demands of it.  It is in the hands of Christ, held forth by Him as a rule of holy walk and conversation; and it is written upon man’s heart by the Spirit of God, (Jeremiah 31:33, Heb 8:10) to which the righteous man yields a voluntary and cheerful obedience (Psalm 119).  He serves the Law with his mind, freely, without any constraint but that of love.  He delights in the law, and the delight is mutual and reciprocal: the law delights in him, and he delights in the law; and they both delight in the same things, and particularly in the perfect obedience which the Son of God has yielded to it.”

Endnotes

**All definitions of Greek and Hebrew words are taken from the Strong’s concordance**

**All scripture quotations are taken from the New King James version of the Holy Bible, Thomas Nelson Publishing, Nashville, TN.**

**Much appreciation if given to my wife Rina as the foundation of this article came from her work**

1.  Bivin, David, Blizzard, Roy, Understanding the Difficult Words of Jesus, Destiny Image Publishers, Shippensburg, PA, 1994, page 113

2.  Keener, Craig S., The IVP Bible Backgournd Commentary:  New Testament, InterVarsity Press, Downers Grove, IL, 1993, page 57.

3.  Bivin and Blizzard, page114

4.  Ibid, page 92

5.  Lightfoot, John, Commentary on the New Testament form the Talmud and Hebriaca, Hendrickson, Publishers, 2003, page 99.

The Law and the Believer

“ One law and one ordinance shall be both for you, and for the stranger that sojourneth with you.” (JPS)

It has been my personal conviction for several years that the commandments of God did not became null and void after the resurrection of Messiah.  Personally, I feel they still have a role in the life of every believer and in the church.  Theologians over the past thousand years would agree that the Law has a role in the life of a believer  and have sought to determine which commandments were morally binding versus the ones that were ceremonial.  I feel this position is a grave mistake for two different reasons.  First, God Himself, when giving the Law, never made a distinction between that which is morally binding and that which was only ceremonial and symbolic.  When we begin to dissect which commands are binding for us morally but not binding for us ceremonially, we have in effect, to quote the old rabbis, “destroyed the Law.”  We are making distinctions that God has not made in Torah (the Hebrew word for law).  Secondly,  when we vanquish a particular commandment because it is ceremonial, we lose the prophetic and spiritual aspects of executing this commandment.  Here is what I mean:  Scripture is filled with seemingly ceremonial acts that moved the spiritual world which, in turn, impacts the physical realm.  For example, Jacob has a dream in which the Angel of God tells him that all of the flocks will become spotted and speckled and God has ordained this to take place.  On his part, Jacob performs a seemingly ceremonial act.  He takes rods and strips of pieces of bark, making them striped, and places them in the watering trough.  It is my conviction that this ceremonial act was actually a prophetic action displaying Jacob’s faith in the dream and the message of the Angel.  This prophetic and ceremonial act of faith, moves the spiritual realm, and the flocks bore stripped spotted young.  When we, as the people of God, make void the commandments of God because we feel it has no benefit for us today, we negate the spiritual and prophetic blessings that obedience brings.  Having said all of that, I believe that the Law has a role in the life of a believer and it is the object of the next series of posts to determine exactly what that role is.

We must speak bluntly from the outset:  the Law was never intended as a vehicle of salvation. God never gave the Law to Israel so they could be “saved” by their own ability to obey the commandments.  This is works based theology and it is unbiblical from Genesis to Revelation.  The Law is filled with God’s acts of grace and the people’s response of faith or, as in some cases, the seemingly, lack thereof.  Nevertheless, obedience to the Law for a mechanism to earns one’s favor with God is not the divine intention.  Again, let me reiterate, that my position has neither been, nor will it ever be, that keeping Torah merits one favor with God.  We don’t keep the Torah so as to get into the Kingdom.  On the contrary, we keep Torah because we already have the favor of God and we keep Torah because we are already in the Kingdom.  This was the divine intention of the giving of Torah to Israel.  Let’s review the circumstances surrounding the giving of the Law.

Israel is in bondage to Egypt.  They are slaves and are being cruelly mistreated and oppressed.  God, in his mercy and grace, hears their pleas and chooses Moses, a most unqualified candidate who doesn’t even want to go, to deliver Israel.  God gives Moses some supernatural ammunition in the form of three signs which work well with the Jews but not so well with Pharaoh.  This leads to much more oppression from the Egyptian and a loss of the trust of the Jews in Moses.  (So much for the theology that miracles and supernatural signs save people)  God cries out to Moses, and in His Grace, delivers a series of plagues which desecrate all of the Egyptian gods and destroys the most powerful kingdom in the world.  Israel is delivered.  How?  By the last plague.  God was going through Egypt to destroy the firstborn sons.  If Israel wanted to be exempt, they had to sacrifice a lamb and put its blood on the doorpost, then God would “pass-over” that house.   Here in the Old Testament, an act of faith on the part of the people followed by an act of Grace by God.  Israel was not delivered from Egypt by the high moral standards of their conduct. They were not delivered because of their works, they were delivered and saved by the blood of the Passover Lamb.  Likewise, we in the New Testament church, as saved by the blood of the Lamb of God.  This is the only means of salvation available to mankind.   An act of faith on the part of the people to believe in the blood of the Lamb followed by an act of grace from God to pardon all our sins.  It is important to note, that God had not given Israel the law before they were saved.  No, that only followed after they were saved.  This is a deadly blow to works based theology because if God was works oriented, He would have given Moses the law to give to Israel and when they were “good enough by their works” He would’ve saved them and no shedding of blood would’ve been necessary.   The apostle Paul understood this all to well when he writes, “I do not set aside the grace of God;  for if righteousness come through the law, then Christ died in vain.” (Gal 2:21)

God leads the children of Israel out to Mount Sinai, and some fifty days later around the feast of Pentecost, God declares His intention for Israel.  God’s desire has been and continues to be, “a Kingdom of priest.” (Exodus 19:6)  Peter echoes this same sentiment in the New Testament when he states, “But you are a chosen generation, a royal priesthood, a holy nation, His own special people, that you may proclaim the praises of Him who called you out of darkness into His marvelous light.” (I Peter 2:9)  God’s proposal was for the entire nation of Israel to minister to God.  Why?  Because they were already chosen, they already had God’s favor and blessing, they were already in His Kingdom.  God had chosen them as His Special People, the Divine Presence was with them, “a cloud by day and a fire by night.”  No other nation in the world enjoyed that favor.  Then., God delivers to them His commandments.  Why?  Because God’s Special People have a holy standard in which to order their lives by.   This standard of holiness is what separated the Jews as God’s special people from the rest of the world.  Their keeping of God’s commandments made a proclamation to the world that they were, in fact, the people of God.  It should be no different today.  Our actions should proclaim to the world God’s holiness and our favor with Him.  When we obey God out of our love for Him we release the supernatural power of God in our lives.  “If you diligently obey the voice of the Lord your God, to observe carefully all His commandments which I command you today, that the Lord your God will set you high above all the nations of the earth.” (Duet 28:1)  Please understand, we must make a choice.

God created all of us with a free will.  Why?  It is the only way that love can exist.  Love requires a conscience choice.  The only way for love, devotion, and worship to happen, is that the believer must have the ability to reject or to accept the Lord.  We have this ability.  Hence, when we moved into the Kingdom by our faith in what Jesus has accomplished, we remain agents of free will who need to choice to obey the holy standards of the Kingdom.  When we do this, we release supernatural power over our lives, when we reject it, we don’t.  This is not works theology, this is the theology of using the free will to turn our lives into an expression of our love and devotion  to  God, not only by our words but by our actions.  When we do not, “And My Name is blasphemed continually every day.” (Isaiah 52:5)  John echoes the same sentiment when he writes, “For this is the love of God, that we keep His commandments.” (I John 5:2)  Paul also makes a similar statement, “You who make your boast in the law, do you dishonor God through breaking the law?” (Romans 2:23).  Then he quotes the aforementioned passage from Isaiah.  We do not make our boast in the keeping of the Law, this is the spirit of self-righteousness, we make our boast in being the holy people of God by His grace and justified by our faith.

The Law was never intended to be a vehicle of salvation, it was intended to be the unifying cultural pattern in which the people of God declare their love of Him to the people of God could become more like Him.   Practicing righteousness and choosing to love Him over the flesh, the world, and the devil.  The Law was intended to unite the people of God under one cultural umbrella which allowed for the unique expressions of each individual.  (see future post entitled, “The Son of Man is Lord of the Sabbath.”)

It is the purpose of this series of posts to demonstrate through biblical and historical evidence that this was the faith of the first century church and has, subsequently, been lost.  It is my personal conviction that God is restoring this position to His Church.  In conclusion, the law is a standard of holiness for believers to choose, it is a unifying cultural factor for the church, and it releases supernatural power over our lives.  It is my position that history and scripture will support this idea.  In order to demonstrate it, we must look at the misguided theology of the last thousand years of biblical interpretation in order to restore what has been lost and debunk was has been accepted as the norm.  We will begin with Jesus, then move into the lives of the apostles, then, to the historical evidence of the first-second century church, and lastly, examine where it was in history that the church rejected the law of Moses, the law of God’s people.  “ One law and one ordinance shall be both for you, and for the stranger that sojourneth with you.” (JPS)